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Spooky Screenplays: 5 Frighteningly Good Horror Scripts

Halloween is just around the corner and that means binge eating candy in between visits from trick o’ treaters and binge watching late night horror flicks. Writing a screenplay is no small feat–but writing a horror screenplay requires a unique and specific process where scares and tension are as equally important as plot and character.

Horror movies need to tap into the audience’s collective fears and leverage them to make the screenplay successful. A great storyline and characters are the way to start your screenplay but you need to figure out how you will leave your audience unsettled. If you plan on writing your own horror flick in the near future, here’s a list of great screenplays you can learn a thing or two from:

Halloween

John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is still one of the most successful independent movies of all time, and set the bar for modern horror screenplays. There are several reasons why Halloween is still a staple in today’s movie culture. It is no secret that in most genre screenplays, female characters are underwritten, unsympathetic, and objectified. While Carpenter did write most of screenplay, producer Debra Hill wrote the dialogue between the three female leads played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and P.J. Soles. Thanks to Hill’s dialogue, the female leads felt more believable and authentic–which helps the audience connect with them before they become Michael’s would-be victims.

 

The Shining

This movie’s script, written by Stanley Kubrick and co-writer Diane Johnson, is a shooting script–a version of the screenplay used during the production of a movie or television show, and is different than a spec screenplay. Kubrick is a master director, and seeing how he planned to build tension outside of the dialogue and simple stage directions is a master class in suspense.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist may be more than 40 years old, but it can certainly rattle your bones and leave you with chills. One thing to note is the lack of a movie score; there are of course the iconic piano key notes throughout the movie, but there isn’t a dedicated score outside of that. It may be obvious to the audience at first but as the movie progresses, the minimalist music helps lull the audience into the screenplay, helping them forget they are watching a movie.

 

 

Psycho

After skillfully building tension with a crime plot centering around protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), director Alfred Hitchcock does something uncommon in Hollywood, and especially in 1960: he switches the point-of-view of the film’s lead about 50 minutes into the film by killing Marion off. The audience is left with creepy motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as he struggles to get away from his domineering, hot-tempered, and murderous mother, or so we think until the script delivers yet another iconic plot twist.

Scream

Kevin Williamson, writer of Scream, opted for a shocking first scene–making the movie’s opening one of the most iconic in horror movie history. The film begins with a young woman, Casey, innocently flirting with a stranger over the phone, before it ends with her frantically running for her life. Because Casey was played by A-list actress Drew Barrymore, who was also put front and center in the film’s marketing, audiences were really thrown for a loop when the phone conversation takes a sudden turn from flirty to menacing. The script never lets up either, giving Wes Craven one of his most meta films of his career, one that deconstructed the entire slasher genre.

Happy Halloween From NYFA!

Watch if you dare for a #NYFAHalloween scare! Wishing you a #HappyHalloween with this compilation of horror films produced by #NYFA students!

Posted by New York Film Academy on Monday, October 31, 2016

 

 

 

8 Books Every Screenwriter Should Check Out

Screenplays, whether for short student films or Hollywood epics, typically follow a fairly rigid format. However, the art of screenwriting, and what you’ll learn in screenwriting school and by workshopping your scripts with your instructors and fellow students, comes down to mastering all the nuances that reside within that format.

A great supplement to the hands-on, intensive training you’ll receive at screenwriting school is of course a good book—after all, who better to write about writing than, well, writers?

screenwriting competitions

There are countless books on screenwriting so it can be hard to choose ones that are worth your time and that will complement your in-class training. Here are a few tried-and-true books that won’t waste your time:

The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay
by David Howard and Edward Mabley

David Howard and Edward Mabley get to the very core of screenwriting with this book, focusing on the principal elements of a script, like plot, structure, dialogue, setting, character development, and imagery, and how they specifically relate to the medium as opposed to other forms of writing. By using specific examples found in famous scripts like Citizen Kane, E.T., and The Godfather, they show how these elements look when masterfully applied.

The 21st Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films
by Linda Aronson

While many, if not most, books illustrate screenwriting through the traditional three-act structure, with some going as far as telling you where story beats should be page by page, The 21st Century Screenplay focuses on breaking the rules once you’ve mastered them. By using popular, contemporary examples of Hollywood films that employ various types of alternate screenwriting techniques, including–Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–the book shows you how to write unconventionally in a way that makes sense and doesn’t alienate your audience.

Psychology for Screenwriters: Building Conflict in Your Script
by William Indick

One of the first things any writer is taught is that conflict is the core of drama, so it goes without saying that a good screenplay needs good conflict. Psychology for Screenwriters focuses on this specific goal, instructing writers how to better understand human behavior to drive their script, and providing readers with theories of personality and psychoanalysis, along with writing exercises, guidelines, and a ton of examples from classic movies.

The Nutshell Technique
by Jill Chamberlain

Unlike most screenwriting books, which teach you the beats of a story linearly, producer Jill Chamberlain (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Crimson Peak), offers The Nutshell Technique. The heart of her technique involves eight core elements of a story that all tie into one another. Cracking the code will crack your story, and Chamberlain demonstrates this with infographics that break down the stories of famous scripts like Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, Juno, and Little Miss Sunshine, using her patented technique.

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting
by William Goldman

Screenwriting legend William Goldman is behind some of the biggest and best Hollywood movies of all time, and readers were eager to read his insights when he first published Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983. However, instead of getting a step-by-step writing manual from one of the masters, they got a personal, fascinating look at the mechanics of how Hollywood worked, from the Golden Age studio era to its transition into New Hollywood and beyond. The book is considered a must-read not just for aspiring screenwriters but anyone who ever plans to step foot in the Los Angeles movie-making machine.

Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business
by David Mamet

David Mamet made his name on his unique style of dialogue-heavy writing, including his Oscar-nominated screenplays for Wag the Dog and The Verdict. His book, Bambi vs. Godzilla, offers an insider look at Hollywood written with his trademark subversive wit, but with a focus on screenwriting, including who in the studio system actually reads your script. It is incredibly informative, but not afraid to have fun, asking questions like “How is a screenplay like a personals ad?”

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!
by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant met in film school, where they and their friends co-founded the comedy group The State, which spawned a generation of film and TV stars like David Wain, Michael Ian Black, and Ken Marino. While also starring as sketch actors and on shows like Reno 911!, Lennon and Garant became successful Hollywood screenwriters, penning many big budget action-comedies and other films, including Night at the Museum and Baywatch. The book offers insight in how to make blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood while also keeping the reader entertained with the hilarious joke-writing skills they bring to their comedy careers.

10 Great Screenplays from 1999

Many great films are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year–1999 is considered one of the best years in recent history for quality cinema. Great films don’t always begin with great screenplays–many elements come into play before a movie hits theaters that could give it its silver screen magic. But these ten fantastic movies from 1999 were solid from the start, and they started from a great screenplay:

Short Script

The Matrix

Lilly and Lana Wachowski followed up their low-budget erotic thriller Bound with a film that would single-handedly reshape the Hollywood landscape to this day, The Matrix. An action and science fiction original script depicting a dystopian society trapped into simulated reality, the film was also inspired by Japanese animation and martial arts films. The inventive use of CGI and “bullet-time” would blow audiences away, but one can only imagine what producers pictured seeing the screenplay without any visual context.

Being John Malkovich 

This head trip of a comedy was the feature film debut for both director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. After completing the script, which involves a puppeteer commandeering the body of real-life actor John Malkovich (played by himself), Kaufman sent the script to director Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola passed it along to his daughter, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who was married at the time to Jonze, who subsequently fell in love with the story. Kaufman later wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while Jonze directed Her; the two collaborated again for Adaptation, which featured scenes on the set of–where else–Being John Malkovich

Magnolia

Eight-time Academy Award nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Phantom Thread), both directed and wrote this American epic drama that boasted an A-list cast: Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, and Alfred Molina, among others. Anderson and his cast make this incredible film a mosaic in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning in California’s San Fernando Valley. The film earned three nominations at the 2000 Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay. It is also the final feature film role of Oscar winner Jason Robards.

Toy Story 2

Nearly every animated sequel from Disney in the 90s was straight-to-video, so the first sequel from Pixar, a theatrical release, had a large burden to carry. Not only that, but it was a sequel to the universally beloved film that launched the studio into the stratosphere–the 1995 classic Toy Story. Disney and Pixar took no chances and assembled a team of skilled writers for the screenplay to Toy Story 2, including John Lasseter (A Bug’s Life), Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), Ash Brannon (Surf’s Up), Rita Hsiao (Mulan), and Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb (Bruno the Kid), using the original film’s characters created by Joe Ranft. Their efforts paid off as the film was very well-received and spawned an even more cherished sequel in 2010’s Toy Story 3, as well as the upcoming Toy Story 4.

Eyes Wide Shut

Iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, just months before the release of his final completed film, Eyes Wide Shut. His oeuvre was diverse, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket, starring Matthew Modine. Eyes Wide Shut was an erotic psychological drama and mystery starring one of Hollywood’s biggest power couples of the time–Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The script was adapted from Traumnovelle, the 1926 novella by Arthur Schnizler, and was co-written by Kubrick and Academy Award winner Frederic Raphael.

10 Things I Hate About You

Teen comedies come out consistently and often in Hollywood–they cost relatively very little money to make and they’re geared towards a prime demographic. But very few end up classics, remembered decades after their release. 10 Things I Hate About You is one of those classics, beloved by both teens and adults. It helped launch the careers of Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles and featured a supporting cast of very familiar faces. The screenplay came from writing team Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde, The Ugly Truth) and was adapted from William Shakespeare of all people, in this case his play The Taming of the Shrew. Compare the two titles together and you’ll even see they rhyme!

The Sixth Sense

Night Shyamalan showed the world he was a master of suspense when his directorial debut The Sixth Sense was released (though it wasn’t his first screenplay.) While his chops behind the camera immediately drew comparisons to great directors like Steven Spielberg, the most famous elements of the film come from the script itself, including lines like “I see dead people” and the shocking twist ending.

Boys Don’t Cry

Kimberley Peirce’s debut feature was adapted from her 1995 short film of the same name and tells the real story of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a transgender teenage boy from Nebraska who moves to Falls City and befriends a local gang. Struggling with his sexual identity, Brandon falls in love with Lana (Chloë Sevigny) before being sexually assaulted and murdered by his former friends after they find out he was born female. The harrowing story earned Swank an Oscar and Sevigny an Academy Award nomination, with the powerful performances rooted in Peirce’s stark and emotive screenplay.

Fight Club

This first feature written by Jim Uhls (Jumper) was adapted from the novel of the same by Chuck Palahniuk, and may be one of the rare cases where a movie is better than the book. The screenplay makes many smart choices in its adaptation, which features one of the most unreliable narrators in cinematic history. Palahniuk supported the adaptation but didn’t want to be involved as a screenwriter, so Cameron Crowe, Andrew Kevin Walker, director David Fincher, and even film leads Brad Pitt and Edward Norton–uncredited–worked on the five revised drafts.  

American Beauty

Of all the great films from 1999, American Beauty would be the one crowned Best Picture by the Academy. It also picked up four other Oscars, including Best Screenplay for writer Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood.) The satire of suburban upper middle class life was first conceived to be seen on a theatre stage, though the concept grew to finally be sold to its distributor DreamWorks Pictures. Executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted to do it without changing a single word and personally recommended Sam Mendes as a director after David Lynch, Mike Nichols, and Terry Gilliam turned down the chance. 

From Book to Screen: Adapting Philip Roth’s ‘Indignation’

On Thursday, December 20, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a guest lecture by producer, production attorney, and NYFA board member, Avy Eschenasy. Eschenasy is the principal of Eschenasy Consulting, which provides advisory services in connection with all business aspects of motion picture production, financing, and distribution.

Previously, Eschenasy was a senior executive at Focus Features from 2002 until 2013, where he was Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning, Business Affairs and Acquisitions. Eschenasy is known for producing Indignation (2016), Casting JonBenét (2017), and A Prayer Before Dawn (2017).

Avy Eschenasy

Eschenasy began the lecture by discussing how the book Indignation by Philip Roth, was optioned to be produced as a feature film. In order for a producer to option a book, they must pay the publisher an “option fee.”

“That fee entitles [producers] to exclusively have the opportunity to buy the rights [to produce the book as a film]” said Eschenasy, “for a limited time period, usually 12 to 18 months” if the producer can find a production company or movie studio that wants to produce the optioned book as a film.

If the producer can find a production company or movie studio that is interested in producing the book as a film, then they would pay the publisher an additional fee for the exclusive opportunity to produce the book as a film. That means that once Eschenasy purchased the rights to produce Roth’s Indignation, Roth’s publishing company was not allowed to sell the option or production rights to any other producers.

Avy Eschenasy

Eschenasy went on to discuss turning the book into a screenplay. In order to get a book adapted to a screenplay, the producer must negotiate with a screenwriter, usually a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

In the contract with the screenwriter, the producer outlines fees paid for the first couple drafts of the script and many times will pay an additional fee if the film makes it all the way to production and distribution. The fees paid to a writer also depend on how they are credited: for example, a writer that has written a script alone would be paid more than a writer that co-wrote a script with one or more partners.

Once the script is finalized, it is time to focus on production. The producer needs to have a “package” ready to prepare for launching production, said Eschenasy. “The script, cast, the director, and the budget.”

Avy Eschenasy

The budget is put together by a line producer and then the producer must try to raise that amount of money to make the film; with independent films like Indignation, this money is typically raised with “pre-sales” to distributors. A “pre-sale” is a contract between the production team and distributors that outlines stipulations that the production team must follow in order to secure financing from the distributor; usually the distributor’s agreement is contingent upon the producer promising a script and a known actor. A way to save money during production is to shoot in a state or a country with tax credits for film and television productions; because of this and a few other reasons, Indignation was shot in New York.

For Indignation, a big part of the production “package” was the actor, Logan Lerman, best known for starring in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). Eschenasy needed a name like Lerman to get distributors interested, but he also needed to make Lerman and his representatives feel confident in Indignation as a production; producers get actors and their representatives to trust their productions with contracts. The contract outlines the shoot schedule, the actor’s “billing” (much like the writer’s “credit” discussed earlier), the fee paid to the actor (including bonuses if the actor wins awards for the role), and perks if applicable.

After all the negotiations and contracts were completed and all of the necessary funds were raised, Indignation went into production. Everything went well during the production phase and then it moved to post-production. Once the final cut of the film was finished, Indignation was entered in the Sundance Film Festival, where it was received very well by critics. Lionsgate Entertainment made an offer to distribute the film in the United States and Sony Pictures Entertainment made and offer to distribute the film to the majority of the international market. After all of their hard work, the Indignation production team got the film made, critically acclaimed, and distributed all over the world.

New York Film Academy would like to thank Avy Eschenasy for sharing his industry expertise and experiences getting Indignation produced with our students!

2019 Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology of six Western-themed vignettes, adapted from a variety of sources, including original short stories the Coen brothers had been developing themselves over the past couple decades. One vignette is based on the Jack London story All Gold Canyon while another is adapted from The Gal Who Got Rattled by Stewart Edward White. The Coen brothers previously won in this category for No Country for Old Men, and have won and been nominated for several Academy Awards in their careers, including a win for Best Original Screenplay in 1997 for Fargo.

BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee

BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, an NYPD detective who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s. Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz adapted Stallworth’s own memoir into a screenplay along with details they gleaned from interviewing him. Director Spike Lee and collaborator Kevin Willmott worked on the script as well before shooting. This is the first Oscar nomination for Watchel, Rabinowitz, and Willmott. Lee has five nominations in total, including one for his Do the Right Thing screenplay, as well as an Honorary Oscar awarded in 2016.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is adapted from the 2008 memoir of the same name by Lee Israel, and chronicles Israel’s time forging letters from dead authors and playwrights, which eventually led to her being sentenced to probation and house arrest. This is the only screenplay credit for Jeff Whitty, who co-wrote Tony-winning Avenue Q. Nicole Holofcener has previously written Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money, Please Give, and Enough Said. This is the first Oscar nomination for both writers.

If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins

If Beale Street Could Talk was adapted from the 1974 novel by renowned author James Baldwin, a love story set in Harlem. Barry Jenkins wrote and directed the film, following up his 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight. For Moonlight, Jenkins was nominated by the Academy for Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won the latter.

A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

A Star is Born is adapted from the original 1937 film of the same name and its two remakes. This is the first Oscar nomination for Will Fetters, who previously wrote Remember Me. It’s the seventh nomination for director and star Bradley Cooper, who has four acting nominations and two Best Picture nods. Eric Roth is a veteran screenwriter with five total nominations for his work—all adaptations—including a win in 1995 for Forrest Gump. Roth’s other credits include The Insider, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Horse Whisperer, and Ali, among many others.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

2019 Oscars: The Best Original Screenplay Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Original Screenplay:

The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara

Deborah Davis started the screenplay for The Favourite in 1998, using actual letters written by the film’s lead characters—Queen Anne, Sarah, and Abigail. It was Davis’ first script; she went to night school to learn how to turn the story into a film. After Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos became attached to the project, Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara (Doctor, Doctor; The Rage in Placid Lake) updated the draft. This is the first Oscar nomination for both writers.

First Reformed, Paul Schrader

Despite having written Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, American Gigolo, The Mosquito Coast, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Affliction, among several others, this is the first Oscar nomination for Hollywood veteran Paul Schrader. Schrader has also directed many films, including First Reformed, a drama concerning a small congregation in upstate New York that includes a much buzzed-about performance by Ethan Hawke.

Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly

All three writers are also Oscar-nominated producers of the Best Picture contender. Green Book is one of the first screenplays written by actor Brian Currie, while Nick Vallelonga is a writer, actor, and director whose father, Tony, is played by Viggo Mortensen in the film. Farrelly has co-written several comedies with his brother Bobby, including Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and Me, Myself & Irene.

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón has written several of his directorial efforts, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity. Roma is a very personal film for the artist, and he is nominated for Oscars for directing, shooting, and producing the film as well. He’s been nominated by the Academy ten times overall and won twice for Gravity, for Directing and Editing.

Vice, Adam McKay

Adam McKay made his name as a comedy writer, having been head writer for Saturday Night Live before moving on to feature films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. In 2016, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short, which he also received a nomination in Directing for. This year he is up for three Academy Awards in total for Vice, including Best Directing and Best Picture.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

How Does ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Fit the Biopic Mold?

Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of rock band Queen and iconic frontman Freddie Mercury, has already won Best Drama at the Golden Globes and is a contender for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s also the latest in a long line of biopics about famous 20th century musicians, including Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, Get on Up, and Straight Outta Compton.

How does Bohemian Rhapsody fit the mold? Here are some of the most important ingredients to gather into making a successful biopic:

The Roots

Many biopics start with at least a scene from the subject’s childhood, and if they don’t, they usually at least include flashbacks. Bohemian Rhapsody is no different, giving us a look where Mercury is originally from.

The Love Interest

Biopics tend to distill the love life of their subject to one or two key relationships that define and drive the character’s motivations and keep them grounded as their fame and world explode. The focus around Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin is prominent among the rest of Mercury’s several romantic partnerships, men and women alike. The real-life Austin approved the script but didn’t want to be involved in interviews or in any promotion of the film whatsoever.

The Music

While some biopics avoid playing the hits of their subject due to expensive or inaccessible music rights, many rely on their iconic soundtracks as a huge selling point for the film. Queen’s hits are numerous, catchy, and famous, so of course Bohemian Rhapsody includes as many as it can. Indeed, much of the film is shot as if it were concert footage to mimic what it was like to be at an actual Queen show.

Lookalike Stars

Hollywood has no shortage of talented stars, so often casting a biopic depends heavily on physical looks–to help sell the idea that audiences are watching true events unfold. Rami Malek not only physically transforms into Freddie Mercury, but is a strong talented actor–it’s no surprise he’s nominated for Best Lead Actor at this year’s Academy Awards, especially after winning the Golden GLobe for his performance.

The Title

Most biopics avoid naming themselves after their subject–that would be too on the nose. Instead, most go with a song title from the artist, often one of their bigger hits. This includes Beyond the Sea, Walk the Line, What’s Love Got to Do With It?, Get on Up, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and of course, Bohemian Rhapsody.

So what’s next for the Hollywood biopic? Well for one, later this year in theaters we’ll see an Elton John biopic titled, naturally, Rocketman. In the meantime, we’ll find out soon if Bohemian Rhapsody is not only a hit biopic, but also this year’s Best Picture!

Ten Iconic Films Written by Screenwriting Legend William Goldman 

William Goldman, one of Hollywood’s most influential screenwriters for several decades, passed away early November 16, at the age of 87. 

In addition to writing several famous (and infamous) major motion pictures across a wide variety of genres, Goldman cemented himself as an authority of Hollywood screenwriting when he published Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983. In the book, Goldman not only shared with readers his mastery of all things writing — story, dialogue, character — but his incisive, honest look at Hollywood’s modern studio system in the 60s and 70s, and what it would eventually evolve into over the next few decades. 

His rounded, honest view of the system that gave him great success was both cynical and appreciative, from the ground level as well as a bird’s eye view from the top, where he laid out and accepted both the good and the bad of the massive and powerful industry that produced an artistic medium he very much loved. 

Here are just some of the films he contributed to the Hollywood canon:

Misery

Director Rob Reiner and producers of the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery, in which a psychotic fan ties her favorite author to her bed and forces him to keep writing, felt like they needed to dial back the horror of the book to make the film more palatable for mainstream audiences. In the novel, the character played by Kathy Bates severs the foot of the author played by James Caan, rendering him unable to escape.

What screenwriter William Goldman came up with as a solution was perfect, and became an iconic Hollywood moment. Rather than sever his foot, Goldman had Bates smash Caan’s ankles with a sledgehammer – less bloody and less gory, but somehow in its specificity, even more brutal to watch. Goldman was proving a valuable lesson in screenwriting: sometimes less is more.

Harper

Goldman had already finished the script to the hardboiled detective movie Harper, starring Paul Newman, but producers needed a scene to play over the opening credits. Goldman quickly came up with a simple, but poignant moment — the disgruntled PI getting ready in the morning, realizing he was out of coffee, and reusing an old filter from the trashcan. In one quick dialogue-less moment, Goldman established the get-it-done character of his protagonist before the opening credits had even finished rolling.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Goldman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on this seminal western that paired together two of Hollywood’s most charismatic and popular leading men — Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film highlights the genre-bending abilities Goldman seemingly wielded without breaking a sweat, going from comedy to thriller to drama to even musical from scene to scene without ever missing a beat. 

Chaplin

Chaplin was a star-studded biopic in 1992 that portrayed the life and career of silent film megastar Charlie Chaplin, and was one of that year’s most prestigious films, with a talented cast, incredibly high production values, and direction by Richard Attenborough. While it received mixed reviews, it was one of the first major dramatic roles for the young comic actor Robert Downey, Jr., who was nominated for his first Academy Award for his work.

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far was also directed by Richard Attenborough, and was an epic World War II film with a large-for-its-time budget and loaded cast that featured stars from other Goldman films like James Caan and Robert Redford. In a genre overstuffed with classics, A Bridge Too Far managed to make a name for itself for its wide scope and intense battle sequences, especially since, unlike many of its brethren, it focused on a major historical loss for the Allied Forces.

Marathon Man

Marathon Man, like some of Goldman’s other screenplays, was adapted from a novel he wrote himself. As a book, and later as a film, it attracted the attention of producers and critics alike for its stark violence and themes of Nazi war criminals still existing in society decades after the end of World War II. A major casting coup for the gritty thriller was Sir Laurence Olivier as the antagonist, who earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

Maverick

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Marathon Man is Maverick, a big-budget western comedy adapted from the 50s television series of the same name. The film reunites Lethal Weapon’s director Richard Donner and star Mel Gibson (and a cameo from Danny Glover) at the height of their Hollywood powers and proved to be a definitive audience-pleasing popcorn movie in a year full of tough competition. 

The Stepford Wives

The science-fiction horror film The Stepford Wives challenged the norms of gender dynamics between husbands and wives and, when it was released in 1975, received only moderate success. It has however gained a solid cult status over the decades, and was even eventually given a big budget remake starring Nicole Kidman in 2004. The term “Stepford Wife” itself has now become slang for the type of doting, robotic homemaker featured in Goldman’s script.

The Princess Bride

“Anybody want a peanut?” 

That’s just one line out of dozens from the eminently quotable screenplay Goldman wrote for The Princess Bride, itself an adaptation of a novel he wrote with the same name. Ostensibly a comedy, the film also plays with genre, and has firmly rooted itself in the hearts of multiple generations of film and adventure lovers. Can you imagine a world without the line, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”??? 

Of course you can’t… it’s “”inconceivable!!!”

All the President’s Men

Goldman won his second Academy Award for the screenplay adapted from the book All the President’s Men, written by the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal. The film, which is still regarded by many as one of the greatest of all time, takes the real-life investigation of newspaper journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they run up directly against a Nixon administration fighting to stay in power. Who would’ve thought its themes and even plot points of cover-ups and political corruption would be more resonant than ever forty years later? 

There are several other fantastic films written by William Goldman in his decades-spanning career, too many to list. Watching them all would not only be a great source of entertainment, but a Master Class in screenwriting from the man himself. 

RIP William Goldman – your contributions to cinema will not be forgotten.

 

Great Techniques to Write a Script with an Unexpected Ending

Don’t you just love epic film endings that you never saw coming? These endings are the ones that stay with viewers for a long time and inspire talk about the movie and the reasons why the screenwriter decided to give the story such a mind-blowing plot twist.

Building an unexpected ending in movie scripts is difficult, but can give a movie a lot of buzz and leave the audience breathless. It can be a fine line between a well-earned shocker of an ending and a contrived, seemingly desperate, last minute attempt to save a bad movie.

What’s the secret to making a successful twist ending? There may not be one magic bullet, but a pretty good understanding of some script writing techniques can help you make a memorable ending stick with your audience:

  1. Misdirect the Viewers

Misdirection is a widely popular technique among screenwriters. The main purpose is to make viewers think that they have everything figured out before subverting their expectations entirely at some point, usually in the film’s climax. What could be better than gradually guiding viewers’ attention away from the real plot resolution and reveal it only at the end, right?

Achieving an effective misdirection requires you to use some tools, including the following.

  • Sleight-of-hand. Gradually bury clues to the real ending in preceding scenes where the viewers will be focused on something else. For example, many screenwriters do it during fast-paced moments such as fight scenes because the attention of viewers is focused on the action.
  • Red herrings. This technique steers viewers in the wrong direction by planning false pieces of information and cues pointing in the wrong direction.
  • Dead ends. Similarly, these wrong directions could lead nowhere and stop short, throwing the audience off balance — in a good way.

Always keep in mind that you need to be as subtle as possible, so the viewers won’t notice you’re trying to steer them in the wrong direction, or so your writing doesn’t come off as heavy-handed. This isn’t easy — you’ll need a lot of time, energy, and focus, so schedule screenwriting appropriately so it fits into your daily routine.

 

Screenplay

  1. Make Your Twist Emotional

An effective way to generate a good twist at the end of the movie script is to look at it from an entirely new point of view – whether the ending would be uplifting or a downer.

If your story has been more or less optimistic throughout the first 2+ acts, a downbeat ending can really gutpunch the audience. Conversely, if your script was mostly gloomy and bleak tale that finally offers its characters some hope or a happy ending, the audience can be overwhelmed with sudden relief and make their experience that much sweeter. Either way, you’re putting your audience through an emotional roller coaster.

  1. Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

This is a simple but effective technique that could make a huge difference for your ending. Imagine that you’re a stranger reading your script cold. How would you react to the narrative? Is there a direction that you found yourself expecting the story to go? What other endings could you foresee for the plot and characters?

Write down and make note of every potential ending you come up with, and then discard them all when writing your ending. The result would be an ending that one would never see coming before it’s revealed!

  1. Use the “No One is Safe” Technique

Clearly, not all movies have happy endings. Not every character will achieve their goals or, depending on the story, may not even survive. Why not take the opposite route and subvert the viewers’ expectations by adopting the ‘no one is safe’ mentality?

By killing off characters or having the plot take unexpected turns earlier in the screenplay, your audience will know not to take anything they’ve come to expect from typical Hollywood movies for granted. With everything unpredictable, they’ll just have to follow along for the ride, and wherever they end up could be a total surprise.

These are just some of the ways to build your story to an unexpected twist ending. But, depending on the genre, your plot should usually come naturally from what your characters would do. Betray that, or any of the other core elements of a screenplay, and everything you’ve built could collapse. But if you navigate successfully between the lines and use the tips above, you could come up with a twist that movie audiences will be buzzing about for a long time after the lights in the theater come up!

Interested in learning how to craft a screenplay? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s screenwriting school here.

Lucy Benton is a writing coach, an editor who finds her passion in expressing her own thoughts as a blogger. Currently, she works at A-Writer. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Also, Lucy has her own writing blog Prowritingpartner where you can check her last publications.